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Danielle Fishel: Parents of NICU babies 'connect on a level you just don't with other people'

“So any time I meet another NICU parent, I just feel like, we connect on a level that you just don’t with other people," she said.
Children's Hospital Los Angeles' 5th Annual "Make March Matter" Fundraising Campaign Kick-off
Danielle Fishel Karp gave an emotional speech during the Children's Hospital Los Angeles' annual fundraising campaign kick-off. "I'm mostly excited to have the opportunity to speak because it feels like a very small way of giving back to a hospital that gave so much to my family when we were here last July," she said.Rich Fury / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

Danielle Fishel Karp’s son, Adler, had a rough start to the beginning of his life.

Born last summer with a congenital condition — chylothorax, in which lymphatic fluids seep between the lungs and the wall of the chest — Adler had to spend time in two neonatal intensive care units.

The longest stretch was at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, where she spoke Monday about her experience.

“I’m already emotional,” the former "Boy Meets World" actress said at the beginning of her speech. She explained she had a “completely uneventful pregnancy” leading up to Adler’s arrival last summer.

“The night I went into labor, my OB/GYN performed an ultrasound and noticed there was fluid around Adler’s lungs,” she said. “We were absolutely shocked.”

She said when they got to Children's Hospital, they were "terrified, overwhelmed and utterly exhausted," but the staff helped them get through the next 12 days.

Her eyes tearing up, Fishel Karp recalled the doctors and nurses that had treated Adler, adding one had even made homemade signs with Adler’s name on them “so it felt more like a nursery and less like a hospital.”

Another “encouraged us to step outside and get fresh air, at least every once in a while,” she said.

Danielle Fishel Karp poses with kids who had been treated at Children's Hospital Los Angeles.Keats Elliott

Fishel Karp later told TODAY the experience stuck with her and bonded her with a “club” of other NICU parents forever.

“You never fully leave the NICU, you leave a part of you behind,” she explained. “So any time I meet another NICU parent, I just feel like, we connect on a level that you just don’t with other people. You just can’t fully imagine what it’s like to have a kid that needs that kind of care until you’ve experienced it.”

Though they didn’t keep in touch with the families they met during their stay, she said they still have a connection.“It’s a club you never want to join, but if you find yourself in it, it is one of the most compassionate clubs that you’ll ever be a part of,” she told TODAY.

Fishel Karp said Adler is doing well, now 8 1/2 months old, and is an “absolute joy.”

“He weighs 18 pounds, has three teeth…and he laughs constantly,” she said.

He is cleared of all fluid but does have low bone density — something she and her husband, Jensen Karp, need to keep an eye on as Adler starts walking.

Both Fishel Karp and actress Natalie Portman spoke at the event Monday, which kicked off the hospital’s annual fundraising campaign, Make March Matter, which enlists the help of local businesses to raise money.

“It just felt like the most minor of ways I could possibly give back to a hospital that gave so much to my family, and I hope we never end up here again but if we do, I’ll look forward to it, because I know that means Adler is getting the best possible care,” Fishel Karp said.

Natalie Portman (L) and Danielle Fishel Karp attend Children's Hospital Los Angeles' 5th annual "Make March Matter" fundraising campaign kick-off.Rich Fury / Getty Images

She noted that Portman had briefly spoken about her son’s visits to Children’s Hospital Los Angeles for stitches at the Monday event. Fishel Karp joked that experience was likely in her future too.

“I do have a boy, I guarantee you we’ll be back,” she laughed.